Flexible friend

August 20, 2009

I am concerned that aspects of your story about penalties for the over-admission of students will have misled readers as to what is happening in Scotland ("SFC refuses to relax over-recruitment rules", 13 August). This is unfortunate when we are striving to respond to the effects of the economic downturn on so many aspects of education. I want to reassure readers north of the border that the Scottish Funding Council is forward-looking and responsive.

Because of changes introduced by the SFC two years ago, Scotland has a system with considerable built-in flexibility. In 2007, we relaxed the criteria against which we would consider imposing penalties for over-admission, and at the time said we would review the policy in 2009-10. Put simply, we freed certain priority subjects, such as engineering, technology and science, from any limitations. At the same time, the tolerance limit for other subjects (excluding controlled ones such as education and clinical practice) was increased from 3 to 10 per cent. In terms of relaxing the rules, we are well ahead of the game.

It is worth noting that in the past six years we have penalised an institution on only one occasion. We act with a good deal of common sense and sensitivity in the way we apply the rules. Applying "informed flexibility" allows us to be responsive within the all-important constraints of fairness and transparency.

We recognise what Universities Scotland describes as today's "pressured" circumstances and are working with it, the Scottish Government and the sector to understand the consequences, mitigate any adverse effects and support students and their universities.

Mark Batho, Chief executive, Scottish Funding Council.

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